USA and Costa Rica became the first two teams from CONCACAF to qualify for the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014™ on Tuesday night. The Americans handed arch-rivals Mexico another 2-0 thumping in Ohio, while the Costa Ricans’ draw in Kingston against Jamaica was enough to send them through too. Panama delivered a shock to hosts Honduras in the late game as a pair of goals from Gabriel Torres sealed a 2-2 draw in Tegucigalpa.
The big game
USA 2-0 Mexico
The much-anticipated CONCACAF clasico ended predictably, with the US beating Mexico at home for the fourth qualifier in a row, and by the very same score. Chants of dos a cero rained down at Crew Stadium in Columbus, where the US are unbeaten in their last ten games. The home fans showed no mercy, taunting the despairing Mexicans who wallow in fifth place, behind Panama on goal difference with two games to go. As they did in their ignominious loss to Honduras four days ago, Mexico started brightly. But the organised Americans got the crucial goal just after the interval, Eddie Johnson thumping home a Landon Donovan corner-kick. Donovan then turned scorer with 12 minutes to go, finishing off a lovely piece of approach work from Mix Diskerud. Clint Dempsey's late penalty-kick miss was an irrelevance amid the raucous celebrations.
The other action
Costa Rica looked on their way to victory against basement dwellers Jamaica in Kingston when Randall Brenes struck in the 75th minute. Reggae Boyz’ goalkeeper Richard McCallum made a dreadful pass out from his penalty area that Brenes picked off and fired home gratefully. But the hosts struck back late when Jermaine Anderson chased a long ball from midfield and tapped past Patrick Pemberton. It was only the islanders’ second goal in eight Hexagonal games and it keeps them technically alive, but very much on life support.
The late game saw Honduras fail to stretch their lead on Mexico, slumping to a 2-2 draw against Panama. Carlos Costly picked up his second goal in as many games after 28 minutes, but the Panamanians hauled themselves back when Gabriel Torres volleyed home extravagantly just after the break. The hosts, unfazed, bounced back and took the lead again through England-based Wilson Palacios, who showed a bit of panache to wriggle past his man and chip a delicate goal over Jaime Penedo. Torres had the final say for Panama, sealing the draw with a crisp half-volley deep into stoppage time.
It was a disappointing result for Honduras, but it kicked off celebrations in the USA and Costa Rica as it sent both nations through to Brazil 2014.
Player of the day – Eddie Johnson (USA)
There was a big question for coach Jurgen Klinsmann before his US took on old rivals Mexico in Ohio: who would replace suspended Jozy Altidore up front. Johnson was the answer. His towering ability in the air and tireless, clever running and telepathic understanding with club mate Clint Dempsey made all the difference. The Seattle Sounders man stretched the Mexican defence at every turn and had them shaking in their boots on each set piece. Just after the half-hour, he rose brilliantly in the box to connect with a Landon Donovan corner-kick. The effort was well saved by Jesus Corona, but Mexico failed to heed the danger. Johnson scored on a virtually identical corner just minutes after the restart, his fourth goal of the qualifying campaign. A man who’s had his ups and downs – he was left off the US team for South Africa in 2010 – Johnson has a new lease on life in the Klinsmann era.
Goal of the day – Gabriel Torres (Panama)
The Panamanians were fighting for their lives in Tegucigalpa, a goal down against an inspired Honduran side, when inspiration struck. Marcos Sanchez roared up the left side and sent in a hopeful, looping cross to the near post. With no angle at all, Torres conjured a bit of magic. Sticking out his right boot and flying through the air, the Colorado Rapids man somehow dinked the ball up and over Noel Valladares. There was no clear way to goal, but no one told the resourceful Torres, who struck again at the death to seal a shock draw.
8 - The number of points Mexico have earned in their eight games so far. Usually qualified by this point, the struggling giants are currently out of the direct qualifying spots and out of a place in the inter-continental play-off with New Zealand. Having only scored four goals in the Hexagonal, the Mexicans – 13 times FIFA World Cup participants – are in deep trouble. Luis Fernando Tena’s men have only two games to go, at home to Panama and away in Costa Rica. In crisis mode and unable to put together anything resembling confident, competent football, El Tri are in danger of missing out on the finals for the first time since 1990.
What they said
“I am so proud of this team and so proud just to be a part of it. We’ve put in a lot of work and to qualify here in front of a crowd like this is just incredible. It’s what it’s all about. Nights like this are for enjoying.” Only just back from his time in the international wilderness, USA legend Landon Donovan talks about how it feels to book passage to his fourth FIFA World Cup.
CONCACAF final round Hexagonal, matchday 8
Honduras 2-2 Panama
Jamaica 1-1 Costa Rica
USA 2-0 Mexico
USA (16) Qualified
Costa Rica (15) Qualified